Cornucopia Update on USDA Crack Down on Aurora Organic Dairy's Factory Feedlots & Certifier Complicity
Contact: Mark Kastel,
The Cornucopia Institute |
WISCONSIN – August 31 – The USDA issued an urgent news
release Wednesday evening announcing enforcement actions taken against the
Aurora Organic Dairy, based in Boulder, CO, the nation's largest organic
factory-farm operation. USDA's enforcement requirements for Aurora include
"removing certain animals from the organic herd and ceasing to apply the organic
label to certain milk."
The action is the result of an investigation
triggered by formal legal complaints filed in 2005 and 2006 with the USDA by The
Cornucopia Institute charging multiple violations of federal organic
regulations. Cornucopia, a Wisconsin-based farm policy group, made on-site
visits to the dairy giant's factory-farm operations in Colorado and Texas,
gathering evidence supporting its complaints.
"While we are pleased that
widespread changes to Aurora's factory-farms have been ordered, we don't think
the USDA went far enough," said Mark Kastel, Cornucopia's senior farm analyst.
"We think Aurora should have been slapped with a significant fine for
deliberately abusing organic integrity and consumer trust and for flooding the
market with bogus organic milk."
This year the growth in the organic
milk supply, due in great degree to "factory-farms" bringing on production, is
pushing down farm prices paid to ethical organic family farmers. "These were not
accidental violations at Aurora-they were described by the USDA as 'willful'.
They were premeditated violations of the law by a multimillion dollar business
enterprise, the largest organic dairy producer in the United States," said
Kastel. "Aurora has competitively injured the nation's family-scale farmers"
Federal organic regulations state that "any operation that knowingly
sells or labels a product as organic, except in accordance with the Act, shall
be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 per violation."
Aurora has been operating five factory-farms, housing thousands of
animals each in confinement conditions in Colorado and Texas. They package
private-label milk for store brands sold at several national chains, including
Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, Trader Joe's, and Safeway. They also market dairy
products under their own label, High Meadows.
Under the terms of USDA's
consent agreement reached with Aurora, the federal agency is allowing the
company to continue to operate as a certified organic dairy operation. But they
have warned Aurora that they will be under increased scrutiny and may have their
organic certification pulled for their dairy processing plant if they fail to
follow through on the requirements contained in the agreement.
Cornucopia's investigation of Aurora revealed, and the USDA confirmed,
Þ Aurora was confining thousands of animals in feed-lots, rather
than pasturing their animals as required by federal regulations.
Aurora was bringing in conventional replacement animals to its organic dairy
herd-animals not qualified to produce organic milk and some from a heifer ranch
that lacked organic certification.
Þ Aurora purchased organic feed for
their Texas operation from a friend of the dairy manager who had sprayed his
land with herbicides.
Þ Aurora was converting animals to its organic
operation in violation of allowed conversion practices (under the federal 80/20
Þ And the most serious violation, selling, labeling
and representing milk as organically produced when it did not legally qualify –
in "willful" violation of the law.
Cornucopia's sources at the USDA
indicate that the enforcement action had been in the works for as long as 18
months and was the subject of political maneuverings as Aurora sought to
downplay and lessen the extent of its sanctions.
"I think all the small
family farms should get an 18 month exemption from the rules like Aurora,"
observed, tongue-in-cheek, by organic dairy farmer George Wright, of Herman, NY.
"And how many years has Horizon had to get their pasture structure going?" asked
Wright, referring to another 8000-head factory-dairy under USDA investigation
stemming from a separate Cornucopia legal complaint. Adds Wright: "I think they
should all be shut down until they can fully comply with all the rules just like
the rest of us. This would also help take care of the surplus of milk they
The USDA's enforcement order stipulates that Aurora's
Platteville factory dairy must:
1. Provide daily access to pasture
during the growing season and not use the cows lactation cycle as an excuse for
confinement in the feedlot
2. Reduce the number of cows at the facility
consistent with available pasture and stocking densities
3. Remove cows
from the herd that were improperly transitioned to organics
4. Use the
more stringent National Organic Program regulations for bringing new animals
into the organic herd
Aurora also agreed not to renew the organic
certification for its Woodward, CO, facility.
Additionally, Aurora agreed
to enter into written agreements with suppliers of animals for its Dublin, TX,
facility that verify the certification of those suppliers and the proper
transitioning to the organic status of those animals.
Institute said that they were also investigating civil or administrative actions
against both of the certifiers that oversee Aurora's operation, the State of
Colorado and San Diego-based Quality Assurance International.
were they obviously not properly enforcing the National Organic Standards, but
they went out of their way to inappropriately partner with and defend Aurora in
the company's own news release downplaying the impact of the USDA action," said
The Cornucopia Institute's research director, Will Fantle. "This subterfuge is
inexcusable and potentially actionable." Certifiers are required by law to
maintain strict independence in their relationship with the business entities
they are supervising.
An impassioned Kastel added, "The premeditated
actions by Aurora Organic Dairy, and their efforts to deceive the public,
constitute consumer fraud. "We expect that responsible grocery chains that have
been purchasing Aurora's milk will now want to distance themselves from Aurora
and procure ethically produced organic milk from the nation's family farmers."
Cornucopia says that from an economic standpoint the defrocking of
Aurora dairy couldn't have happened at a more opportune time. "There's a surplus
of organic milk right now and retailers can find a substitute for Aurora's faux
organic milk," observed Kastel.
Officials at Aurora have indicated that
the USDA mandated changes will cost the company $3.3 million. The company has
said they will downsize their herd at the Platteville facility to 1250 milking
cows (the herd numbered 4000-5000 cows when Cornucopia visited the site in 2005)
and raze three-quarters of the buildings and feedlots on the site so as to add
more of the required pasture for the milking herd.